Letters to Author Janis Hutchinson
Written during the new changes in Worldwide Church of God
(name changed to Grace Communion International in 2009)
Letter #1 from D. Williams, ESN:
April 18, 1996
PO Box 374
Everett, WA 98206-0374
I recently received your letter addressed to all of us who had written to you. In it you stated that, after attending the Portland WCG Ministerial Conference, you become convinced the changes were indeed genuine.
I will agree with you that the doctrinal changes are becoming genuine Orthodox beliefs; however, the main issue that was addressed by all of us was the reason for these changes and the sincerity of the leaders at the very top.
Your letter caused me to feel very abused and threw me into confusion and trauma. It felt like all of us ex-members had been thrown into a big hole and bulldozed over. Did anyone even care when our voices tried to speak out against enormous deceit?
If I was to narrow in on one thing, I would ask, whatever happened to the Biblical qualifications for leaders of a church: "free from the love of money..." and "not double-tongued..." These two alone disqualify those at the top of the WCG to be shepherds over the flock!
As I read over Greg and Tkach, Jr.'s statements in your letter, I could clearly see so much that just didn't add up in the light of what they have been doing and what has been said by Tkach, Sr. in past WN's [The Worldwide News] and on videos (not just what has been going on in local congregations). Their smooth-sounding answers can come across as so good to an outsider, but one would have to have been in the WCG for several years to be able to decipher it all. I think many of us Christians just don't want to believe deceit could abound to such a degree in any Christian ministry today. We are much too trusting--to our own chagrin.
The "rumors" the WCG faces today usually turn out to be the "facts" of tomorrow. Let's see in a few years what this "cult-turned-Christian church" becomes. More opulent than ever before? More skilled at deceiving the naïve and gullible? Filled with more worn-out, weary Christians? Only time will tell.
Sincerely in Christ,
Exit & Support Network™
May 9, 1996
PO Box 374
Everett, WA 98206-0374
Thank you for responding to my letter of 4-18-96. Your letter had several things I wanted to comment on, and I would have written sooner, but I was sick for a week.
You said you have "always believed it was a corporate move." I was able to read L.A. Stuhlman's 15-page letter to you, and perhaps it was from that that you came to understand the WCG had a strategy behind their changes. I think L. made it very clear that was the case, and I'm glad you can see that.
In addition, you also said if the move resulted in a "change for the good," then "that's what counts." In one way, this could be true; e.g., if members finally learn about the true meaning of grace and Christ and aren't abused anymore by controlling, power-hungry ministers. But if we stop and look at the whole picture, we would have many members in--and coming into--a religious organization where it appears that the leaders have lied during the whole period of time they were making these "Christian changes." We know that Christ doesn't work through men that lie; therefore, are they really true Christians? If so, something is wrong with their Christianity. If not, how blessed will the whole church be since they take all their instruction from the top leaders? Therefore, the point doesn't really revolve around whether we can determine whether Tkach, Jr. and leaders are lying at present about how repentant they are, or whether they really are instructing the ministers in the "correct ways."
As far as present abuse, you will have to check with L. on whether there is any going on at present. It was revealed to me that there has been a recently received a letter from someone who just exited and documented that there is. I know these are the people you need to hear from, but it has to be their choice to speak up. In the meantime, the WCG leaders can always reply to stories such as this by saying that a lot of the ministers out there still haven't caught on completely to the new, non-abusive, non-controlling way and so are still running their congregations the "wrong way."
And to this I come back with my original statement of why didn't the leaders start with the inside first instead of slipping around corners and going to counter-cult ministries, Christian magazines and ministries, etc. years before? If they truly cared about the members--spiritually and emotionally--would they let them continue to be abused for years while the leaders slowly made the changes in order, as they said, "not to lose any more members than necessary?" Is this the way Christ would have worked? If changes, to be effective in a cult, must be made slowly, what reason do they give for implementing the changes along with throwing in a good dose of blame and guilt? Was that necessary to the members' psychological health?
The only "inside" work the leaders made sure they did first was to start updating booklets and literature after Herbert Armstrong's death, and then to instruct the members to throw out all old literature. That way, ten years later, all those who followed that procedure would have nothing to refer back to and examine if they wanted to verify what the leaders were now saying about HWA, as all would be conveniently destroyed!
When I quoted the words "double-tongued" (I Timothy 3:8), I was referring to the documented evidence that proves the leaders have said one thing to the outside and another to the inside over the past several years. Otherwise, of course, we couldn't just "look into their hearts" and know they are lying.
One important point is that before Tkach, Sr. died*, he was adamantly denying the "rumors" that were saying he was going to change the way they observed the Sabbath, whether they could eat unclean meats, and whether they had to tithe.1 All the time he was denying these things, he knew full well he was going to do away with these things--and shortly. Would you call this lying? Have the leaders suddenly decided to now stop this kind of behavior since they've got the message out on the New Covenant teaching? Or do they find it necessary to continue until all changes are firmly in place?
On 4-30-96 and 5-1-96 Tkach, Jr. was interviewed on D. James Kennedy's2 Christian radio program "Truths that Transform." Tkach, Jr. said that Herbert W. Armstrong was a "very sincere Christian who was dedicated to Christ." Tkach, Jr. knows for a certainty this is about as far from the truth as one can get! Much has been published about HWA's motives, plagiarisms, heresies, and sins. His past has been "shouted from the rooftops," and the WCG has never denied it was true. Does Tkach, Jr. plead "innocent" of any sort of knowledge about HWA? This would hardly hold up.
Another thought: Imagine what this knowledge about HWA will do to those very few thinking members in the WCG that discover it someday? As they remember Tkach, Jr. saying HWA was a "very sincere Christian dedicated to Christ," they will leave the WCG, vowing never to trust any religious organization or minister again!
Furthermore, on the same radio program, Tkach, Jr. said, "I don't think he (HWA) took as harsh a view personally towards other Christians. He just overstated things because of his bent for marketing." This is really a twisted statement because HWA printed and verbalized many ugly statements about other Christians. (One more reason for throwing out the old literature.)
So you see, Janis, we just can't go by how these leaders stood up at the Oregon conference and "repented" and apologized." We have to look at their fruit these past few years. Are they behaving as Christ would? And is it OK to keep HWA painted as a "very sincere," dedicated Christian that "didn't quite understand the Bible" when the present leaders fully know otherwise? What would the leaders answer if questioned about this kind of behavior? Would they shrug and say something like: "Well, it served its purpose. It facilitated the changes. Now let's forget about how we did it. Just be glad it's done and get on with our job!" What would the Moonies call this? Heavenly deception???
In the meantime, the WCG is telling the members that they are reaching out with a "healing ministry." I don't think any disfellowshipped members have been invited back. I've heard that a few invitations have gone to those that went into some of the splinter groups. I'm sure the leaders would want to be very careful concerning who they invited back, as too many confronting questions could prove quite embarrassing and create a stir no one wants. As a result, how would they then get rid of that person without disfellowshipping (which they say they aren't doing anymore in order not to be abusive)? Not being able to point out the reality of a situation and to ask any question is what prevails inside controlling, abuse churches. (See The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, by David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen.)
Yes, I'm sure the money has been spent and can't be returned to any ex-members.3 But if they really cared about the damage they did to thousands, they would at the very least send out letters, recommend books, organizations, and professionals that could help, instead of being so busy to launch their "Plain Truth Ministries," and continue to talk of the "plenty of work that has to be done." In short, if they weren't so good at covering up the truth, they would be working with altruistic organizations such as the Exit & Support Network™ to help the victims inside and out, instead of being so quick to label such as "dissidents," bitter," and "rumormongers."
Even though they have declared that they have "changed," I know I wouldn't want to be back in there! Granted, there are some wonderful people who are members, but they are very dependent on each other as a group (their "family"). They probably will always be like children, looking to Tkach, Jr. (or whoever is the leader at the present) to tell them what is correct to believe and what they should do. They will remain "willing slaves" to the organization--a very dangerous position to be in, especially with leaders over you that have a track record for not being completely honest.
You say you are still keeping your eyes and ears open. This will be wise on your part to do so. Meanwhile, I feel there are some of us from the WCG who have strong convictions when it comes to such evils as lying, deceit, and exploitation. We will not be content to lie back and do nothing. For this reason, we will continue to speak up, expose the lies, and proclaim the truth. Would God expect any less of us?
Sincerely in Christ,
Exit & Support Network™
*Joseph Tkach, Sr. died on September 22, 1995 of cancer at the age of 68.
March 6, 1996
P.O. Box 374
Everett, WA 98206-0374
I very much appreciated your reply to my letter. I wanted to write you again as I had some other things that were bearing on my mind in regard to the present changes in the Worldwide Church of God (WCG).
I mentioned in my first letter that I now attend a healthy, grace-filled church, filled with the fruit of the Spirit, yet with no push of any kind on the members. As I read through the WCG's newspaper (The Worldwide News), I am having a hard time being convinced that they are really becoming a "healthy church."
It's true that the members have never known about evangelizing or feeling they each have a ministry, and one might think they now need to be "coached" on how to do this. But why the big rush by the leaders to accomplish this? It seems to me these members need time to heal from their abuse and confusion and to have time to be taught more about how Christ can heal them and how they can personally find rest in Him--not hearing how they have to now perform in new ways to be accepted by Him or the church. I have to ask why they aren't being given this time?
Have you ever read the book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse? The authors, David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen, are pastor and counselor of the Church of the Open Door in Crystal, Minn. and have a "Growing in Grace" ministry. I have written them, and they know much about unhealthy churches. I would like to quote you a couple of things from their book:
"In college they called it 'Rush Week.' It was the time when the fraternities and sororities pulled out all the stops to recruit most desirable new students into their house. Jesus confronted false spiritual leaders for this very same thing. They went to great lengths to recruit people into a religion system, instead of to God. Have you ever felt like you were being recruited?" (pg. 162)
"Rather than pointing to Jesus, what is really valued (in these unhealthy groups) is how well we perform in church. Eventually, we realize that memorizing and spouting Scripture, witnessing and leading study groups are terribly inadequate sources of life, in and of themselves, leaving us empty and looking for more." (pg. 175)
Another very good book to read is, Damaged Disciples: Casualties of Authoritarian Churches and the Shepherding Movement, by Ron and Vicki Burks. [no longer in print; check interlibrary loans, e-bay; used book stores] They were caught up in a charismatic, discipling church, which started as a "desire for deeper things of the Spirit." Some quotes from this book are:
"We learned to do what we were told, and we learned well. However, in the process, the chance to feel our own feelings and take our own actions was denied us. So we stopped taking any action. We waited to be told what to do... We were in the movement for over fifteen years and it has taken time and trouble to get out of it and begin to get it out of us." (pg. 15)
They talk about how it was hard for them to form new Christian relationships, how very difficult to feel comfortable in other churches, and how they were unable to trust others. He said he has seen serious psychological damage caused by these movements.
Now I would like to quote some of the words from a recent Worldwide News:
"We need more workers." "We have much to do." "Build the church up." "Each member should serve." "Each member should minister." "Make disciples." "Recognize and use the gifts." "Every member has a role." "There are already many laborers in the fields. The main problem is, they aren't all laboring!" "We need to expand the role of the members." "Every member doing some work."
(If you don't have a copy of this WN page, I'll send it to you.) These may sound like normal statements to make to Christians, but to those who are worn out, tired, and wounded, it seems they need rest instead of more work.
Another thing that I notice is, are they concerned about helping people in the congregation that might riot be saved? I see them talking about getting people healed, but at the same time, stirring them up to find their gifts and become a "part of God's Army." And if they do start sharing Christ with outsiders, is their motive in wanting that person to find a personal relationship with Jesus, or to get them into the WCG? Right now, it looks as if it's the later. I'm sure you understand that a healthy church wants to witness in order to bring others to a saving knowledge of Christ, not necessarily to bring them into their church. If they want to attend the church of the one who evangelized them, that is fine, but it should not be the main goal. It certainly is not the main goal of the church I attend.
Are the members going to be able to eventually feel comfortable fellowshipping with any and all Christians from other denominations? Or will they mainly feel comfortable in their own little group? (I know how very difficult this has been for me.) The ministers may have been instructed on how to reach out and heal the members, but do they really understand the psychological trauma that mind control techniques foster on someone? (Experts on mind-manipulating groups would have much to say about this.) And what about the members who decide to leave for one reason or another--perhaps because they discover the group's true history and that they wasted their life in a cult? What are the ministers going to do for them? Hand them a list of books to read on recovering from cults and suggest they go to counseling? I doubt it. Can you see the magnitude of this problem?
I'm sure they can try to work with the ones still in and attempt to heal their past wounds. But how healthy is the control they still exert? The members are so dependent on the group and the leaders to "guide them" and give them "God's understanding in every way.
The person I write to that is still in the WCG doesn't write to me about how wonderful they now feel with the grace of Christ. This person talks in terms of not being under "legalism" anymore and repeats for me exactly what I have seen printed in The Worldwide News. They talk about how they are "looking forward to the future of "the church" and thinks it's "going to be better than ever." I'm sure they [WCG] have them all excited. But the emphasis is still on "the church," and what "the church is going to do." That's the way it was when I was in there. Where is Christ? Are they excited with their new relationship with Him? I felt so different after I exited and realized what a true relationship with Him was all about and what grace really meant. I see none of this in the writings of hers or the WN. I see the same mind set as always. The WCG has always been talking about "having a mission," and going to do "wonderful things," and have "a goal."
I do think that if they were really genuine in their motives for changing the church, they would have first made the changes (albeit slowly) within the church, and then went to the media and told them. Why did they approach the media first? (As far back as 1990) They also couldn't really have been thinking about not wanting to lose many members when thousands have left and went right back into Herbert Armstrong teachings and legalism. What hope is there for these poor souls? How could God be a part of such a plan?
If they do eventually become some type of Pentecostal or discipling church with a hierarchical form of government and much control, then maybe we will do well to let them go their way. There are many other churches today that are like that. However, I don't know any (besides cults or cultic one.) that have a main man off in another state, interpreting the members' belief system, keeping them looking to him, yet having worldwide congregations all believing identically and calling it "unity." Perhaps I am naïve.
You mentioned to L. that you would like to talk to a present member of the WCG so you could see what is really going on in there. Let me remind you that the ones in there are still under mind control. They don't think critically, they go by what they are being told, and they are very loyal to the church. This is all they have known. Since the leaders are acting excited and happy with the changes, the members feel excited and happy. (The ones that aren't have left.) They especially don't know the difference between a ''healthy'' church and an "unhealthy" church. Neither do they understand controlling or discipling churches. They are very pliable to any direction the church leads them. And they will defend whatever the church is telling them. It is important to understand the effect mind control can have on someone.
I apologize for this lengthy letter; however, I did want to pose the very same questions in your mind that I have had in mine as I watch these changes in the WCG take place. I do believe that if the members could find a close relationship with Christ and a true rest in Him--without their continual emphasis on "the church" (which to them means the WCG)--that that would be the best thing that could happen for their spiritual welfare. But what I continue to hear is the constant push on how they are to get busy and "serve." They've never heard anything else but this. I truly believe the true image of Christ--his character--is being distorted to the members, in spite of all their talk of "change."
Sincerely in Christ,
Exit & Support Network™
May 28, 1996
P.O. Box 374
Everett, WA 98206-0374
Thank you for your recently received letter of 5-17-96. In regard to whether you can copy my letter and pass it on, particularly to Craig Branch of Watchman Fellowship, that won't be necessary, as I have already mailed him a copy. As far as passing it on to others, you may.
Thank you for sending me the copy of the very important resignation letter from David Covington (former minister of the WCG), and your correspondence to him. I recently received two more copies of his letter that was sent to me from other sources.
Also, I appreciated the correspondence you sent me between you and Greg Albrecht. I think your last letter to him of 5-20-96 posed some very confronting questions. I'm curious as to how he will answer them. Please be sure and send me a copy.
As I read your letter that you wrote me, I couldn't help but have certain thoughts come into my mind about your reasonings. Many of them sounded like some of the same reasonings and explanations the WCG leaders would give to its members and outsiders.
You commented about how Tkach, Sr., knowing he was dealing with the members' "delicate faith," had to be careful and that was a possibility of why he had to be deceptive with them. All this does, in my opinion, is break a member's trust in their leaders when they find out. I've heard former members state this to me, and it causes the majority of them not to lose their faith in God, but to lose faith in a religious organization. Most hold on to their faith in God, even though they may never want to go to a church again. I was told that the ESN has only heard of two that became atheists,* out of the hundreds [that contacted the Exit & Support Network™ during the time of the changes] that they have dealt with from the WCG. When I found out about the 200 doctrinal changes (in Jan. '94) that were already being made in the WCG--without my knowledge as a member--it didn't cause me to lose my faith, but created confusion and disappointment. After I uncovered the depths of corruption and deceit, it created feelings of deep betrayal. I asked God why did He allow me to go in there? (With others it causes extreme anger.) No, it didn't cause me to lose my faith. It caused me to want to leave!
Also, remember that Tkach, Sr. didn't always consider the members and move slowly with the changes. He came out quite quickly with several major doctrinal changes in Jan. 1995. (This by the way came after he visited Earl William, minister of the WCG at that time, and told him, "You did wrong to preach grace before I did" and "You pre-empted me.") The quick changes in Jan. confused, angered and even traumatized many members.
In spite of it all, approximately 50% left and went to splinter groups (or nowhere). Does the administration show it cares about these poor people who are now holding on to the "wrong faith"? It appears that his so-called slow change with the doctrines didn't accomplish all that much good. The end, however, doesn't justify the means.
Your analogy about the man running for his life and should we lie and tell the gunmen we don't know where he is hiding, or do we tell the truth and cause the man to die, doesn't quite fit with what has happened in the WCG. First of all, of course we should protect the man and say we don't know where he is. Christ showed plainly that mercy always comes first when there is a conflict concerning the Ten Commandments. But in the case of the WCG, 50% have left. Many are holding on to the old ways. How was their faith spared by the deceptive maneuvers? The remaining 50% in the WCG will lose their trust in ministers and religious organizations if they find out the deception started years ago. This is playing with people's minds and emotional health!
It's beyond me how anyone can conclude that HWA was probably a "very sincere Christian who was dedicated to Christ" when there is "hard facts" out there that you are wanting to have. There are facts that show he was plagiarizing material from the very beginning of his ministry and also was committing incest with his daughter from 1933 to 1943. (His ministry started in 1934.) Even recently L. has gathered information on HWA before he moved to Oregon, and it isn't a picture of a "wonderful Christian man that followed Christ." The information is out there. All one has to do is take the time to investigate.
In reference to Tkach, Jr.'s seeming reluctance to reveal HWA's true character, and your referring to "mud-slinging" and how Tkach, Jr. must have known Christians frown upon that; there's a difference between "mud-slinging" and exposing the works of darkness (Eph. 5:11), which should be something a Christian of integrity would want to do.
I have to disagree with what you wrote David Covington when you said that a church "must stress tithing, simply because it takes finances to run a church" and "if the very same emphasis on tithing responsibility were given in other Christian churches, none of those members would think it out of place." First, for WCG members to still be coerced into giving 10% to headquarters so the church doesn't fold could put many members back into a financial bind. Much suffering has already resulted from the tithing in the past. But because of guilt, they will tithe if told it is their "Christian duty." In addition, don't forget they are already putting aside an additional 10% (more or less) for the Feast every year--plus seven Holy Day offerings a year. How will they know where their money is being spent in a hierarchal system where the leaders are accountable to no one and only give "their word" that the excesses of the past no longer exist?
Yes, it does take finances to run a church (and needs should be made known to the congregation), but not at the expense of placing burdens on people, including guilt trips if they don't tithe. The church I attend never stresses tithing; the percent, or freewill offering, is left entirely up to the person. Since many people in my church have came from legalistic, authoritarian, and controlling churches, they certainly would find it upsetting to hear tithing stressed in a grace-oriented church.
When you mentioned that it is going to take time for abusive ministers to change, I want to say that there is much more help available today in the form of books, literature, videos, tapes, support groups, etc., to help ex-cultists and ministers deprogram and heal and change than there was years ago. But I still feel the best thing to do, as David Covington said, is to leave the system when it shows no signs of healthy change.
To sum it all up, how do I feel honest, sincere, Spirit-filled Christian leaders would have orchestrated the changes? On their knees, beseeching God to step in. Then gently and lovingly, as kind shepherds, setting about to first instruct the members in the truth; giving them all the help they possibly could. These kinds of leaders would have confidently placed the whole thing in God's hands, which means leaving the results in His hands also. This takes real faith, but it's certainly better than taking things into their own hands to "make it work."
Janis, I'm very sorry that you suffered terrible abuse in the Mormon offshoot you went into. But please continue your "watching and waiting" along with investigating all the documented facts on this very deceptive organization, so others will be spared further abuse and exploitation themselves.
Sincerely in Christ,
Exit & Support Network™
*This was true at the time this letter was written.
[NOTE: WCG never showed any remorse during this time, but instead excused it away that they were, in so many words, "new with all these things." They also used the excuse of, "we didn't effectively communicate" the changes. If this were true, then why were ones such as David Covington, Earl Williams and others able to see the true teaching of the New Covenant, versus the double messages, confusion, and blame permeating out of headquarters at this time? Could thought reform have played a part?]
UPDATE on WCG:
In November 2004 the WCG moved its headquarters from Pasadena to Glendora, California. In April 2009, they changed their name in the United States to Grace Communion International. (Some local church areas and countries may still carry the former name or a different one.) Today they have gone on to embrace New Age Teachers and philosophies. Read: Grace Communion International - New Age and Ecumenical Connections and Letter to Worldwide Church of God, Philippines (On Apostasy--A Radical Proposal) (this letter reached close to 350 WCG ministers, including those at Headquarters).
2 Update: D. James Kennedy died September 5, 2007 at the age of 76. Few are aware that Kennedy was a member of the CNP (Council for National Policy). Much more on the Council for National Policy (founded in 1981), plus a list of members, can be found in this report and in the exposé Let's Focus in on "Focus on the Family" by former FOTF employee Randy Shafer which documents the unscriptural and New Age direction that Focus on the Family is moving the Christian church toward.
3 Be sure and read our update on one of these "healing sessions" that WCG brought in.
4 At the time of the WCG new changes (in an interview with author Janis Hutchinson in 1996), Janis had asked, "Will there be any attempt to pay back brethren for the money they've lost?" Greg Albrecht's answer was: "No--it would be an impossible task and the money is no longer there. It was spent." [bolding ours; copy of letter with ESN] If it was "spent," then what happened to the money WCG received from the sale of their Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena? In addition, what about the $3 million dollars they say they received from Philadelphia Church of God in 2003 when they sold the copyrights to PCG in order for Herbert Armstrong's literature to be republished? What about the millions they received from the sale of their campus in 2005 and how the five top leaders are now said to be set financially for life? (Our OIU Newsletters and Research Letters brought out how WCG began selling their land holdings years ago.) They sporadically offered their "lame" apologies but have never returned any monies which they exploited and conned from thousands of innocent people.